At The University of Kansas Cancer Center, you have access to the latest therapies and treatment options for multiple myeloma such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. You will receive care from an experienced team of medical oncologists, hematologists, nurse practitioners and other medical professionals. The goals of multiple myeloma treatment are:
- Reduce the multiple myeloma symptoms you may be experiencing
- Control progression of the disease
- Provide long-term remission
You and your oncologist will discuss any therapy you may require for your multiple myeloma treatment plan. Depending on your multiple myeloma diagnosis, you may receive therapies alone or in combination.
Myeloma treatment options
Chemotherapy is the main treatment for most types of multiple myeloma. Chemotherapy uses medicines to destroy cancer cells. You may receive medicine in a pill, injection or intravenously through your bloodstream. Because different chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells in different ways, you may receive 2 or more chemotherapy drugs.
You'll receive chemotherapy in courses, or cycles, that can take up to 28 days. A few days between cycles allows your body to rest before the next course. The side effects of chemotherapy may include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, weakness and loss of appetite.
An advanced form of chemotherapy, targeted therapies treat specific aspects of multiple myeloma cells or their growth mechanism. Also called immune modulators, these drugs help the immune system find and attack cancer cells. They are less likely to harm normal cells than chemotherapy. Targeted therapies for multiple myeloma include:
- Proteasome inhibitors: These drugs target the cell enzymes (proteasomes) that help myelomas grow and survive.
- Angiogenesis inhibitors: These prevent the formation of blood vessels that feed tumors or cause changes in cancer cells that make them die.
Side effects of targeted therapies may include disagreeable physical or emotional conditions.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells within a limited, specific area. It damages the genes in cells to kill cancer cells or stop new cancer cells from forming. Your doctor may recommend getting radiation therapy before a stem cell transplant.
You may receive external radiation therapy with X-rays directed at a certain part of your body. Internal radiation therapy can come orally in pill form or as brachytherapy – radioactive seeds injected into or near a tumor.
Radiation side effects may develop over time and can include nausea, diarrhea and fatigue. You may also experience hair loss and changes to your skin in the treated area.
Blood and marrow transplant
Multiple myeloma can damage the blood-forming cells in your bone marrow. Bone marrow cells are called hematopoietic stem cells. Those from the bloodstream are called peripheral stem cells. A blood and marrow transplant, also called peripheral blood stem cell transplant, uses healthy blood-forming cells from either bone marrow or the bloodstream to rebuild a healthy blood supply.
Before your blood and marrow transplant you will receive high-dose chemotherapy, which kills cancerous and normal cells in your bone marrow. The blood and marrow transplant replaces them with healthy stem cells to build new bone marrow.
Our physicians have been performing blood and marrow stem cell transplants since 1977. We have the most experienced BMT specialists in the region. Our program is accredited by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy. We also are a designated National Marrow Donor Program Transplant Center.
Steroids are a common multiple myeloma treatment. Although steroids relieve swelling and inflammation, some also have anticancer effects. Steroids can be used on their own to treat multiple myeloma, or they can be combined with chemotherapy, targeted therapy or both.
Most side effects of steroids go away over time once the drugs are stopped. Some common side effects are feeling hungry, trouble sleeping, slow wound healing, upset stomach and swelling in the ankles, feet and hands.
CAR T-cell therapy
Abecma is a CAR T-cell therapy, or chimeric antigen receptor T-cell. It is a form of immunotherapy that works by training a patient’s immune system to find and kill cancer cells. The University of Kansas Cancer Center is the first and only in the region to offer this CAR T-cell therapy to treat relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma.
This is accomplished by re-engineering a patient’s immune cells to find myeloma cells and defeat them. These cells, known as T cells, are the backbone of the immune system and normally lead the charge in killing cancer and other harmful cells.
The CAR T-cell therapy process involves separating T cells from the blood and, in a laboratory, genetically engineering them to include synthetic receptors called chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). These reinvigorated cells are then infused back into the patient, newly equipped with receptors that actively search out cancer cells, destroying them as they would a simple pathogen.
Abecma is not first-line treatment and will only be used after other more traditional therapies, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation and stem cell transplants, have been tried and were unsuccessful. Patients who receive Abecma must have relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma after 4 or more prior lines of therapy.
The most common side effect is cytokine release syndrome, which is similar to flu-like symptoms. This can include headache, fever, chills, severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe muscle or joint pain, shortness of breath, low blood pressure and fast heart rate.
Rarely used to treat multiple myeloma, you may require surgery to remove a solitary plasma cell tumor located outside of the bone or to repair a bone fracture caused by multiple myeloma. Side effects of surgery may include weakness, fatigue and pain after the surgery. Other common side effects are swelling, surgical scars and, less frequently, infections.
Life after myeloma
Surviving multiple myeloma is a lifelong process that requires regular and ongoing checkups. You also may need help managing some of the side effects of your myeloma treatment. Your healthcare team can let you know about any lifestyle changes you can make to help speed recovery and improve your overall quality of life. You also may wish to visit the Brandmeyer Patient Resource Center for more information.
Our experienced team of doctors, nurses, counselors, dietitians and research coordinators can help you:
- Understand your treatment options
- Assess and manage side effects from your treatments
- Monitor for cancer recurrence
- Manage complications from your condition
- Connect you with relevant clinical studies
- Make recommendations for lifestyle changes
- Keep an eye on your overall health
Helpful websites to learn more about myeloma:
- International Myeloma Foundation
- Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
- National Marrow Donor Program
- National Cancer Institute (part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health)
- American Cancer Society
The University of Kansas Cancer Center does not assume responsibility for any of the information posted on these sites.